Kyiv’s Independence Square will be rich with bright lights and decorations throughout the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.
When in Rome, do as the Romans. The same applies for visitors to Ukraine. It’s easy to learn how to celebrate New Year’s here since today’s traditions are a leftover from the Soviet era. For some, the hardest part is the stamina it takes to be a glutton for 13 consecutive days.
Celebrate thrice. Before ushering in the New Year, one must send off the old one. To do that, people used to gather at the table around 11 p.m. and raise the first toast on Moscow time. This year those following the tradition will start early, as the Russian capital is now two hours ahead of Kyiv. The two-hour interim is spent talking and eating before the Kyiv midnight celebration begins. But it’s not over until Jan. 14, the start of the New Year under the old Julian calendar. It is not celebrated as widely anymore, but TV stations still broadcast reruns of New Year’s programs on Jan 13, and many families celebrate all over again.
Choose your champagne carefully. Forget Asti and Veuve Clicquot. The most authentic choice of champagne for the New Year’s table is Sovetskoe. It is another touch of nostalgia since many Ukrainians can afford more expensive champagne but still choose the cheap Soviet-era brand. Pyramids of Sovetskoe boxes appear in stores at least a month before the New Year. Depending on the manufacturer, a bottle of Sovetskoe costs Hr 25 to Hr 45. Another popular choice is Artyomovskoe. Produced in Donetsk Oblast, it costs about Hr 50.
Eat tangerines. In Ukraine, there wasn’t always a wide range of fruits available in stores year-round. Decades ago, tangerines harvested in the Soviet Union’s southern areas were brought to stores not long before the New Year, making the juicy fruit the season’s treat.
Follow the Chinese calendar. This is perhaps the cheesiest tradition ever. The Chinese (also called the Eastern) calendar, which defines each year with one of 12 totem animals, is very popular in Ukraine. It’s a great help for those who have to get a last-minute present or look for a little something to give to somebody they don’t really care about. Each December, all kinds of souvenirs made in the shape of the next year’s mascot fill the stores. 2013 is the year of the snake. Making it look cute is a tough task for retailers.
No resolutions or kisses, but make wishes. Don’t try to kiss anyone at midnight, the gesture probably will be misinterpreted. There is no tradition of kissing at midnight in Ukraine and New Year’s resolutions aren’t pledged. But wishes will do. The most popular way to make a wish is complicated, though. When the clock strikes midnight, one must write a wish on a tiny piece of paper, then burn it all, throwing the ashes into a glass of champagne and drinking it. If all that is done before the clock strikes midnight, the wish is believed to come true.
Eat lavishly. That’s a basic rule of celebration. There must be a lot of food on the holiday table. And when we say a lot, we mean much more than people can possibly eat in one sitting. Usually, holiday table leftovers feed the family for at least several days after the celebration. And the New Year’s table is dominated by olivier salad. Made of potatoes, ham, eggs, pickles and dressed with mayonnaise, olivier is as much a symbol of New Year as turkey is of Thanksgiving Day. Among other must-haves are red caviar, usually put on buttered white bread, shuba salad (made of herrings, potatoes and beet), shproti (smoked and preserved kipper fish) and holodets (jellied minced meat).
Make midnight calls. There is a practice of calling close friends and family members minutes after midnight and congratulating them. That makes cellular networks temporarily overload every year. Knowing that, many prefer making calls in advance or send texts.
Watch the president’s speech. It’s not that Ukraine’s presidents have been very original in their New Year speeches, but they do bring a personal style to it. Leonid Kuchma used to deliver speech from the coziness of his home, sitting near the fireplace with his grandson. Viktor Yushchenko preferred recording his speech at Sofiivska Square. President Viktor Yanukovych does it standing next to the Presidential Administration building. The speech is broadcast right before midnight and is followed up by the clock striking midnight.
Watch The Irony of Fate.
If there is a movie incarnation of New Year, it is Ironia Sudbi, or The Irony of Fate, a Soviet romantic comedy from 1975. The movie produced dozens of popular quotes and is a true encyclopedia of Soviet humor and lifestyle. Nostalgic or not, many Ukrainians still enjoy watching it. Usually, at least two Ukrainian TV stations show it on New Year’s day, with first often starting in the afternoon, long before the midnight celebration.
Kyiv Post’s staff writer Olga Rudenko can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org